Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canada and Costco

We've gone from living very close to the Mexican border to living not far from the Canadian border. So we went to Canada yesterday. We were at Niagara Falls, and there's a Costco about 20 minutes across the border, so we decided, why not?

Even with all the border crossings we've done, I was a little nervous about this one. It was our first land border crossing involving the US, and certainly my first one being the driver of the car. Fortunately, we made it. The border guard let us in even though we had a pretty sketchy story.

Canadian Border Guard: Where are you from?
Me: Uuuuuummmmmm, New York? [It was literally the first time anyone has asked me that question since we moved and I was caught off guard. I'm sure it sounded like I was lying.]
CBG: Is this your car?
Me: Yes.
CBG: Why is it from Arizona?
Me: [D'oh!] Oh, we just moved to New York, from Arizona.
CBG: [Examining our crazy Arab-stamped passports and Magdalena's Vermont birth certificate.] Hmm...and what is the purpose of your visit?
Me: You know, just hang out, maybe go to Costco.

"Just hang out"?!?!? How incoherent can you get? At Israel's borders, they disarm you by using exclusively young, female border agents to lull you into a sense of ease and comfort. Canada has apparently decided that clean-cut, military-ish, vaguely handsome males will best deter people planning on engaging in illicit activities in Canada. Despite the fact that I failed the basic Canada entrance exam, he eventually let us through, though it was probably against his better judgment.

Once we were in, Jeremy and I played that most entertaining of games where you make broad, sweeping generalizations about the citizens of a country based on your first five minutes there. We discovered that, as a rule, Canadians run red lights, speed atrociously on the QEW, and are pasty-skinned.

Their road signs were the cutest things ever, though. We passed through a work zone on our way to Costco and we kept seeing signs like this:
I just loved the enthusiasm of the "New!" sticker. It was like something you'd see on a cereal box in the grocery store: "New! Now with choco-bits!" or whatever, except I guess it's "New! Now with more left-turn lane!" They also had polite signs that said things like "Seat belt use is compulsory." Unlike in America, where our signs are in all caps and just say "USE SEAT BELT," or in Utah, "CLICK IT OR TICKET."

The Costco in St. Catherines (missing apostrophe theirs) was great. We loaded up on weird Canadian versions of familiar brands and then had a lunch/dinner at the food court. I meant to take a picture of the menu there, because it is different and exotic, but somehow I forgot. Jeremy decided on the Montreal Melt, though it was a close call between that and the FRIES WITH GRAVY. What a bizarre parallel universe. We finished it off with an ice cream cone, which is real ice cream at the Canada Costco instead of fat-free frozen yogurt. It was dang good.

Anyway, we made it back through the border into America with a little more finesse because Jeremy and I rehearsed our story before it was our turn to talk to the guard. We decided to say "We just moved to New York," instead of claiming to be from there, and if he asked why we moved, I was to say "My husband got a job at Cornell," and NOT give away that it had anything to do with Arabic. The border guard ended up asking us both of those questions and the Cornell mention got an appreciative nod.

About two dozen toll booths later, we arrived home in Ithaca. Even though we've driven through quite a bit of New York by now, I keep forgetting about the toll booths. We spent around $12 just on tolls today. It reminds me of what Beirut must have been like during their civil war - people just throw up checkpoints willy-nilly everywhere and you have to bribe your way through. I swear a couple of times it was just like, "Here is a bridge. Now give us a dollar!"

So the lessons of the day are: get your story straight before crossing into Canada, mention Cornell at every chance, and whatever you do, don't miss out on the ice cream cones at a Canadian Costco.


JackJen said...

You need to get the FastLane EZPass for your car. ESPECIALLY since you live in New York. (I'm sure you saw the 'Fast Lane' can speed through without stopping.) In MA, they're free, and they've saved us TONS of time when we've gone back and forth to maine (Toll total: $4 each way).

YOU TURNED DOWN THE POUTINE!????? Bridget, it's not just french fries with's french fries covered in CHEESE CURDS covered in gravy. In my humble opinion, it's one of the most precious jewels in the crown of Canada. That and the Bay of Fundy. And Ketchup Chips.

At some point you need to visit maritime Canada. I've been long looking for someone to go to PEI with me while my husband slaves away at work. Don't you think PEI in the fall with our kids would be great?

TOTALLY not kidding about that, either.

Susanne said...

I enjoyed reading of your experiences to and from Canada. Were the Costco prices comparable to the States? Is there one nearer to you than Canada? Sounds like you are enjoying your time there so far. :)

Nancy said...

Ummm, but it sounds like you missed out on the gravy and fries.

It's still weird to me that people find that weird. My own husband, even.

Liz Johnson said...

So how far is this Costco from your house?? It sounds like this could be a workable option, no?

The border agents at the Detroit/Canada border are totally happy to let you into Canada (they have amazing Italian restaurants just over the border), but getting back in is more of a feat.

"Why did you go to Canada today?"
"For lunch."
"Really. And you didn't pick up anything else?"
"Nope, just leftover gnocchi."
"What was on the gnocchi?"
"Pumpkin sauce."
"And you didn't pick up any prescription medication while you were there?"
"Ummm nope. But you could argue that gnocchi is medicine for the soul, I guess."
"Riiiiiight. Move on, I guess."


Suzanne Bubnash said...

Did they stamp your passport? I was disappointed when crossing into Alberta last year that they barely glanced at our passports & so of course, no cool stamp--thought we might get a maple leaf or something.

Fromagette said...

Oh, and another thing you should never do is to let your dad say "parlez-vous francias?" to the border guard when crossing over into Quebec. Excessive embarrasment for pre-teens, and I speak from experience.

Jeremy Palmer said...

It was actually called the Montreal Meat Sandwich. It was pretty good but not great. The fries, however, looked delicious. The real ice cream was the best!

JackJen said...

Also: we have 'click it or ticket' signs all over our freeways, too. I can't let Utah take ALL of the flak for a terrible slogan.

Laura said...

I am really impressed that you had Magdalena's (I know it's spelled wrong sorry) birth certificate handy. I love Canada. Living in Washington we went every couple of years. I am glad that you enjoyed your time there.

Yeah the tolls here are crazy. For us to drive up to Matt's moms house it costs $20 in tolls. That is just one way. It really makes you appreciate the roads out west.

Jeanerbee said...

Awesome. One thing we never did was get up into Canada... you'll have to go up to Niagra! And I second the EZPass thing... if we'd been there longer than a year we would have gotten one!

Kat Clark said...

So two things that have nothing to do with this post. Sorry. First, I was surpised that there are lie 98 listings next to the Nastygram file on your blog. I read through alot of them and I agree with pretty much all of them. Next, I just tried to watch Mario Lopez and Sandra Lee make a "500 dollar" cake and I couldn't make it through the whole segment! I was too uncomfortable at how awful it was! I hate Sandra Lee!


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